The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is asking employers for ideas to help the agency restructure in the face of budget reductions.
Newly appointed MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmel has initiated a broad review of environmental regulations and practices with an eye toward increasing the agency’s efficiency. MassDEP is exploring a number of alternatives, including stepped-up use of information technology, greater reliance on self-certification and audit programs, and shifting certain tasks to third parties, as the state has done with the successful Chapter 21E program.
“It will not be easy to identify quick-fix solutions to improving our operations. However, our current budget realities require us to think and act differently,” Kimmel said in a statement.
“The current staffing levels at the agency are inadequate to guarantee timely and predictable permitting outcomes in the event permit applications begin to increase as the economy recovers … In order to avoid potential permitting backlogs and reduced compliance moving forward, and to ensure that MassDEP is well positioned to continue serving as a national leader in setting and enforcing environmental standards, we need to look seriously at all options.”
Associated Industries of Massachusetts commends the reform initiative and will serve on an advisory committee formed by Commissioner Kimmel. The business community often finds itself at odds with MassDEP decisions, but nonetheless understands that predictable and timely regulatory decisions are essential to Massachusetts companies as they seek to grow, expand and create jobs.
MassDEP has struggled for the past decade to meet increased responsibilities from lawmakers as its budget and employee count have dropped. The agency’s budget has declined from $62 million in 2002 to $46 million today, while staff has gone from 1,200 full-time equivalent positions to 840 during the same period.
Kimmel says he will consider all of MassDEP’s programs as potential candidates for regulatory or permitting reforms. He will not consider changes that require increases in staff and will prioritize those that allow the agency to accomplish its environmental responsibilities with fewer people.
The commissioner is expected to begin reviewing recommendations for reform by the summer.
If you have suggestions, ideas or comments about potential changes to the environmental regulation system in Massachusetts, please contact me at email@example.com or 617.262.1180.